Last Sunday the Cleveland Browns finished the 2023 season by traveling to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. Going into the game the Browns are locked into the 5th seed as an AFC Wildcard Playoff Team. The Bengals were already eliminated from playoff contention. A win or a loss would not have any bearing on the postseason. The strategy for the Browns is simple.
Getting healthy and getting ready for the playoffs is what the Browns needed to do. The Browns planned on resting starters including quarterback Joe Flacco. Jeff Driskel was called up from the practice squad to start at quarterback for the Browns. Even though this game had zero meaning for the postseason, Coach Stefanski emphasized that the team was trying to win the game. And winning the game could’ve had historical significance.
The last time the Browns won 12 games in the regular season was in 1986, That year they won the AFC Central Division and had a heartbreaking loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. Winning a 12th game this season would be significant. But it is not important considering the big picture for this team’s playoff run.
With the big picture in mind and for reasons of rest or injury the Browns also sat DE Myles Garrett, WR Amari Cooper, S Juan Thornhill, CB Greg Newsome II, K Dustin Hopkins, CB Mike Ford, and LB Anthony Walker was placed on injured reserve. WR Elijah Moore was cleared from concussion protocol earlier that morning. He did not play. Many other Browns starters did not play. This was an opportunity for other players to get valuable game reps.
Unfortunately, it was the Browns’ backups against the Bengals starters. By halftime, the Browns trailed the Bengals 24-0. To avoid the shutout quarterback Jeff Driskel found wide receiver David Bell for two fourth fourth-quarter touchdowns. The final score was a 31-14 Bengals win. The Browns 2023 final record is 11-6. Driskel finished the game 13-26, for 166 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. His quarterback rating was 63.9. On a positive note, the Browns did rush for 104 yards. The rushing attack was led by running back Pierre Strong Jr. with 68 yards. With very few staters playing, the 31 points given up by the defense is not too concerning. The Cleveland Browns’ concern is their wildcard opponent next weekend.
With the Jaguars losing to the Titans, the 11-6 Browns will travel to Houston to play the AFC South Division Champion Houston Texans 10-7. This will be a rematch from the Christmas Eve game when the Browns dominated the Texans. But this time the Browns will face rookie quarterback CJ Stroud. This season Stroud has put up numbers making a case for an Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. But he has never faced a defense like the Cleveland Browns defense. Come Saturday at 4:30 PM EST, Houston may have a problem!